Liberty begins beyond the car
The most mundane situations can produce great ideas, as we all know. On a rainy day in 2014, Martti Mela is cycling through Berlin-Kreuzberg; annoyed at getting soaking wet. Looking at the unused space under the viaduct of the U1 line, the Finnish entrepreneur gets the idea of a cycle path underneath the track. While many Berliners have probably thought the same, this time the idea manifests itself. Friends of the city planners, architects and cultural workers formed the initiative project "Radbahn", and the concept of a covered car-free corridor for cyclists took shape. One year later, the first social media campaign goes viral within a very short time. In order to cope with the increasing workload and need for funding, paper planes e.V. was founded without further ado: a non-profit association, a think tank with the aim of rethinking urban space and making the design process accessible to as many people as possible. "We are interested in the entire value chain of urban development," says Simon Wöhr, cultural worker at paper planes. At the beginning, it is about creating a mood with visions and inspiring people, but the implementation and cooperation with the city administration, science and civil society are also an elementary part of the work.
The capital is going green
The winning design "VibRad" by the architectural office Fabulism © paper planes e.V.
A claim that is somewhat more difficult in the case of the "morgenfarm berlin": The appropriately named after-use concept for the unfinished 16th construction section of the Autobahn 100 envisages vertical farming, gastronomy, and a network of cycling and walking paths - although a feasibility study is still pending. The Federal Transport Infrastructure Plan still envisages completing the inner motorway ring through Berlin designed in the 1930s. In view of the politically strongly postulated traffic turnaround and the challenges of the climate crisis, this is completely backward-looking, says Simon Wöhr. For paper planes, the "morgenfarm berlin" is first of all food for thought on how to deal with such a problematic construction in a creative way.
This is how cycling traffic under the viaduct of the U1 line could look. © paper planes e.V.
The association's paper planes that have already "landed" are so-called pop-up forest modules and the "forsTerasse" on Forsterstraße in Berlin. The former served as urban oases during the Corona pandemic in the form of mobile street furniture with integrated planters; the "forsTerasse", on the other hand, offers opportunities for neighbourly exchange in summer in front of the paper planes e.V. office.
The first step in the implementation of the "cycle track" is not far off - the groundbreaking ceremony was held last summer, and the first test track will go into operation in late summer 2023. This also heralds the end of a process that lasted several years: After the founding of paper planes in 2016, its founders launched the "Radbahn + Innovators" competition two years later. With a representative of the Senate Department responsible for smart city projects on the jury, the innovative character was clearly formulated: the "bike lane" as a real laboratory. In addition to the winning design by the architects of Fabulism, ideas from other entries are also incorporated into the design of the "Radbahn".
Kristin Karig, architect at paper planes, emphasises that other sectors and perspectives must also be included: "If only designers sit together, they lose the picture of the whole." At some point, the Reallabor will demonstrate how holistic thinking and digital innovations come together on an approximately 500-metre stretch between Kottbusser Tor and Görlitzer Bahnhof. In cooperation with the Technical University of Berlin, a communication system for traffic light phases will be implemented. Cyclists will then be able to assess whether it is worth braking or pedalling via dynamic red-green bars in the form of light installations. According to Matthias Heskamp, architect at paper planes, this leads to reward effects through green traffic lights and reduced waiting time at red phases, which also reduces the potential for conflict among road users. The fact that evaporation beds and green spaces are being created along the route on former car parks and their paving stones are being used to build interaction spaces underlines the holistic approach of the think tank.
Instead of cars: tomatoes from Neukölln. The vertical farming of "morgenfarm berlin" is supposed to make it possible. © paper planes e.V.
"Freeing the streets"
With the "Manifesto of the Free Street", the people of Berlin set out for the future. Supported by the Mercator Foundation, paper planes joined forces with the Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin and the TU Berlin in autumn 2020 to form a consortium to provide scientific support for the conceptual phase of the manifesto. Seven theses - including mobility, economy and climate - formulate a vision of how the street could be used differently in the future. Essential here: the potential of public space as an urban common good. While streets have been places of everyday life for thousands of years, where business, trade and games were played, the occupation of the street by the car leads to a loss of social interaction - and thus also to social incomprehension and social alienation. Current trends such as artificial intelligence could help to make car-free streets a reality again: for example, through intelligent utilisation of sharing offers or demand management in logistics. Above the technical solutions, however, there are always the images of new and alternative uses that are to be created in people's minds.
Kreuzberg creativity: The paper planes team in front of their office in Forsterstraße, Berlin-Kreuzberg. © paper planes e.V.
If the song "Paper Planes" by British rapper M.I.A. is the anthem for immigration freedom, then the Berlin association provides the visual counterpart for the street.